Underscoring Ben Affleck's star status, The Accountant topped the North American box office over the weekend with a better-than-expected $24.7 million from 3,332 theaters after being snubbed by many critics but embraced by moviegoers, who awarded it an A CinemaScore.
The Accountant, directed by Gavin O'Connor, is good news for Warner Bros., which spent just under $40 million to make the adult fall drama (86 percent of ticketbuyers were over the age of 25, including 68 percent over the age of 35).
In the action-thriller, Affleck plays a whiz accountant (and assassin) who cooks the books for mobsters and cartels. When he's targeted by the Treasury Department, he goes to work for a company he thinks is on the up and up. Anna Kendrick, J.K. Simmons and John Lithgow also star in the film, which was fueled by males in particular (58 percent).
"This is a tremendous result. Look, I was hoping we'd be opening up between $15 million and $20 million, but I thought it would be more like $16 million or $17 million," said Warners domestic distribution president Jeff Goldstein, noting The Accountant came in ahead of Affleck's The Town ($23.8 million) and Argo ($19.5 million), as well as Johnny Depp's Black Mass ($22.6 million). And it opened on par with last weekend's winner, The Girl on the Train ($24.7 million).
Overseas, The Accountant will roll out slowly after grossing $2.8 million from its first 10 markets over the weekend, mostly in Asia.
The big winner internationally was director Ron Howard's Inferno, a sequel to The Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons that's based on Dan Brown's best-selling book series. Tom Hanks reprises his role as Robert Langdon in the film, which debuted to a strong $50 million from its first 53 markets two weeks before launching in the U.S. Felicity Jones co-stars.
Sony pegs Inferno's budget at $75 million, half the cost of Angels & Demons, which was released in 2009. Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons did far more business offshore than domestically, and the same is expected for Inferno (Brian Grazer is producer of the series). Following the movie's worldwide premiere in Florence, Italy led all other territories with $5 million. So far, Inferno is pacing ahead of recent action-thriller Jason Bourne.
"This franchise has always been a big international play. So to have this kind of success with some very big markets yet to come, including China, portends great things," said Sony domestic chief Rory Bruer.
In addition to Hanks and Affleck, another popular star fared well at the box office - Kevin Hart. Universal's stand-up comedy pic Kevin Hart: What Now? opened to $12 million domestically from 2,567 theaters, tying with fellow Universal title The Girl on the Train for the No. 2 spot - the final order will be revealed Monday - and coming in ahead of the $10 million debut of Kevin Hart: Let Me Explain, which went to become one of the top-grossing stand-up comedy pics of all time in 2013.
"He's a genuine comedic movie star, and the definition of what's funny today," says Universal distribution chief Nick Carpou. The film played to a diverse audience: 43 percent African-American, 24 percent Caucasian, 23 percent Hispanic, and 9 percent Asian/other.
What Now?, which nabbed an A- CinemaScore, follows the final performance of Hart's wildly successful stand-up comedy tour at Philadelphia's Lincoln Financial Field in August 2015, along with a dress rehearsal. Hart's previous stand-up film, 2013's Let Me Explain, opened to $10 million on its way to earning $32.3 million domestically, the third-best showing of all time for a stand-up comedy movie.
Leslie Small and Tim Story directed What Now?, which also features special appearances by Halle Berry and Don Cheadle. The film, which cost under $10 million to make, played evenly gender-wise, and drew a number of younger moviegoers, with 46 percent of the audience under the age of 25.
The weekend's third new offering, Max Steel, bombed with an estimated $2.1 million from 2,043 theaters. Dolphin Films partnered with Mattel on the film, with Open Road distributing. (Last month, the filmmakers lost their bid to lower the rating from PG-13 to PG.)
Based on Mattel's toy action figures, the sci-fi adventure film follows teen Max McGrath and his alien companion, Steel, who combine their new powers to evolve into the turbo-charged Max Steel. The unlikely friends struggle to accept their oddly connected fates as they battle evil forces threatening mankind. Stewart Hendler directed the pic, based on a script by Christopher Yost. Max Steel stars Ben Winchell, Ana Villafane, Andy Garcia, Maria Bello and Billy Slaughter.
Elsewhere, embattled filmmaker Nate Parker's The Birth of a Nation plummeted to No. 10 in its second weekend. The slave-rebellion drama declined a hefty 60 percent to an estimated $2.7 million for a 10-day domestic total of roughly $12 million for Fox Searchlight.
At the specialty box office, Gravity co-writer Jonas Cuaron's Desierto, a topical Mexican thriller about illegal immigration into the U.S., opened to $450,000 from 73 theaters for a screen average of $6,164. Cuaron also produced the film with his father, Gravity director Alfonso Cuaron.
Impressing in a major way is Spanish filmmaker J. A. Bayona's specialty film A Monster Calls, starring Sigourney Weaver, Felicity Jones, Toby Kebbell, Liam Neeson and Lewis MacDougall. The movie stayed No. 1 for the second weekend in a row in Spain, amassing $12.8 million in its first 10 days for Focus Features/Universal.
A Monster Calls, which premiered at the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival, opens in select U.S. theaters on Dec. 23, the heart of awards season.